In Memoriam: Allen Toussaint

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Published on: November 10th, 2015

Allen Toussaint [Photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee]

Allen Toussaint [Photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee]
Allen Toussaint [Photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee]

Memorial Services for Allen Toussaint, November 20


Legendary New Orleans pianist and composer Allen Toussaint died at the age of seventy-seven on Monday, November 9. A true performer to the end, Toussaint was on tour in Europe at the time of his death.

Toussaint is fondly recalled as an elegant, humble, and supremely talented man. His work influenced countless artists, and the number of musicians who benefitted from Toussaint’s touch as a producer and arranger is astonishing. Throughout his career, Toussaint worked with the likes of Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Art Neville, Dr. John, the Meters, Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, Al Hirt, and many, many others.

Toussaint was born in 1938 and raised in Gert Town. He first played piano at age six and was soon picking out songs he heard on the radio. As a teenager, he found work as a session musician at Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio and wrote "Java" for trumpeter Al Hirt in 1958, who won a Grammy for it. Toussaint went on to write, produce, and arrange a number of now-instantly recognizable songs, including Ernie K-Doe’s hits “Mother-in-Law,” “A Certain Girl,” and “Tain’t It the Truth;” Chris Kenner’s “I Like It Like That;” Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is;” Art Neville’s “All These Things;” Lee Dorsey’s “Ride Your Pony;” and many more.

In 2013, Toussaint received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on American artists. President Obama spoke highly of him at the award ceremony: “After his hometown was battered by Katrina and Allen was forced to evacuate, he did something even more important for his city -- he went back. And since then, Allen has devoted his musical talent to lifting up and building up a city. And today, he's taking the stage all over the world, with all kinds of incredible talent, doing everything he can to revive the legendary soul of the Big Easy."


If you have thoughts or memories you'd like to share, please leave a comment below.

We'd also like to share some of the many photos of Allen Toussaint that we collected over the years:

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I think this Facebook post by George Porter, Jr., is really moving:

Genius, Icon, Master musician, Song writer ,Humanitarian, Fashion plate, Poboy expert, and if you ever had the pleasure of meeting him one of the nicest people you will ever come across he allways seem to remember you. Mr. Toussaint was a true American treasure, and a cornerstone of New Orleans music. There has definitively been a disturbance in the Funk. God Bless you AT you will never be forgoten

Freedom for the Stallion.

Words seem inadequate sometimes. A musical genius, a great humanitarian, a distinguished gentleman, the embodiment of all that is the very best of New Orleans and its irreplaceable culture and music.

A hometown hero who championed his beloved NOLA through her best and worst times, and blessed the rest of this nation, and the entire world, by bringing her sublime joys to anyone with the ears to listen and the heart to feel. And millions of ears and hearts did.

Thank you, Mr. Toussaint. We will miss you, but your music will be with us forever.

I'm truly devastated.
The universe seems incomplete.
Mr. Toussaint, your music has been my companion through the sweetest and saddest of times. Your beauty the wind that has kept me afloat. Deep within me, in my purest places born of your harmony, I can still hear your smile. That will never leave.
I simply don't have the words...other than eternal thanks.
You'll be reborn in my heart every day awake.
You were the best of us.
With Love...

Allen was a dear soul that touched the lives of many. My daughter and I especially. Today, we miss you as a family. May the four winds blow you safely home.

Dear Allen,

You made us dance, you made us smile with your mojo always flying high. I wore out hundreds of LP’s listening to your creations. You left a huge hole in my heart today on the news of your passing. What a ride we had. What a thrill to have me along for the ride. You filled the world with songs that we loved so much. You became the best at what you do. The music world celebrates your life and times today with joy and love for all the moments given us. It was great hanging out with you this year. And don’t fret, I will pass that song that you wrote for us on to Bob, Bill, and John.

Desitively Bonnaroo,
~Mickey Hart

From My Daughter Reya

I was 13 years old when I got my first Allen Toussaint record. I remember it was raining. It was December in San Francisco. I remember holding the black and white record sleeve under my jacket so it wouldn’t get wet and sitting anxiously in the backseat of my mothers car with it on my lap, staring at it for an hour before we got home.

When I finally put the needle on the record it was like everything just kind of fell into place. I was suddenly aware of a world I had never known existed before and it made me desperate to go to New Orleans. When I finally got there, it was like that record came to life and there was no going back.

When I met Allen Toussaint, I was shaking so badly I could barely get words to come out, but he was incredibly gentle and kind and we eventually got to talking about WWOZ and New Orleans in general. He told me he was glad I’d found New Orleans. He said I was doing good things. I can’t imagine what New Orleans feels like today, but I know whatever hurt I’m feeling must be felt 10-fold on the streets. I wish I could be there to see that second line. I wish I could be there to hear his music flooding the streets, the way I know that it will.

I guess all that’s left is to say thank you. Thank you, Mr. Toussaint, for changing the course of my life and so many others. Thank you for making music that inspires, for producing the funkiest records of all time, and for introducing me to my home.

~Reya Hart

I met Mr. Toussaint at the Fair Grounds, several years ago, where he was sponsoring an 'appreciation day' for the Children & Youth Services workers. I approached him with my hand outstretched saying, 'I've been a longtime fan and it's an honer and pleasure to meet you.' He clasped my hand with both of his, looked deeply into my eyes and with a gentle and sincere tone responded, 'Thank you so very much, that's so nice of you to say that.' I will always cherish that moment.
Rest in peace; your work here is done, your legacy will continue hereafter.

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